Mexican oxygen vendor who lost 4 family members in pandemic

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Sep 3 (efe-epa).- First he lost his father-in-law, then his son-in-law, then it was his brother-in-law and finally his mother. Few have seen the harsh reality of the coronavirus from as close up as Cesar Hernandez, a Mexican who sells medicinal bottled oxygen to Covid-19 victims and who has lost four family members during the pandemic.

“Any loss affects the family, but in my case, they came one after the other. You haven’t recovered from one when it’s another. You barely get going and then it’s another one,” he told EFE sadly on Thursday at the door of his small oxygen business in the northern part of Mexico City.

The nightmare began at the end of March, the month in which Mexican authorities declared a health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, which since then has resulted in 610,957 confirmed cases and taken the lives of 65,816 people in Mexico, according to official figures, putting the country in the No. 3 spot worldwide in terms of Covid-19 deaths, following the US and Brazil.

Back when “nobody believed” in Covid-19, he said that his 76-year-old father-in-law Ramon, already with problems in both kidneys, was hospitalized, dying in early April.

Although health authorities attributed his death to the coronavirus, the family is not certain about that, since no test was ever performed on him.

“Then, in May my son-in-law died, and it was definitely Covid. Four days later my brother-in-law died and on May 31 my mother died. They’re heavy blows and it makes you believe that you have to take care of yourself, not only you yourself but the whole family,” Hernandez said.

The symptoms his relatives experienced were unmistakable. High fever, heavy coughing and difficulty breathing. Hernandez tried to help them with oxygen tanks from the family business, which his father-in-law had founded, but it was already too late.

Although his 75-year-old mother Teresa died at home, his son-in-law David and his brother-in-law Hector had to be hospitalized.

Once they were admitted to the hospital, no further information came to the family about their condition until health authorities informed them that their relatives had died. “They don’t give you anything more than to tell you when they died,” Hernandez said.

“You prepare yourself but, no matter how much one prepares, the bad news is always hard,” he added.

Before taking over the reins of the oxygen business in 2005, Hernandez worked in a funeral home. But that didn’t enable him to become inured to the death of a loved one, and even less so regarding the death of a young man like David, who died at age 25 and was “very healthy” before becoming infected.

“When people die young it hurts a bit more, right? … It’s because you say that he didn’t live as long as he was supposed to,” said Hernandez, who remembers David every times he takes his grandson Liam, age 3 and now fatherless, for a walk.

If there’s one thing that’s become clear to Hernandez over the past months it’s that Covid-19 is no joke. He has not only seen it within his own family but also in his work, where he’s gone from selling seven loads of oxygen per week to 15 in a single day.

Although the pandemic seems to be declining slightly in severity in the Mexican capital, Hernandez continues to see “many Covid cases” each day, along with “many deaths.” Thus, he doesn’t hesitate to point out the “ignorance” of those who don’t believe the virus needs to be taken seriously.

“I imagine it’s out of ignorance. Until you experience it yourself, you don’t feel that it exists. We advise people to take care of themselves, to take care of their families because the majority are at home and they’re living with their children and parents,” he said.

The virus also affected his sister and his sister-in-law, but they recovered, “thank God,” he said. For that reason, Hernandez, his wife and daughters isolated themselves for a number of days and got themselves tested, but those tests came back negative.

“It’s had a big effect because you can’t even give someone a supportive hug out of fear of getting infected and giving it to others,” he said regarding the wakes for his relatives, all of whom were cremated on the recommendation of the health authorities.

With his voice breaking, Hernandez admitted that it’s been three months since he hugged his other family members, but in his work he has found the strength to get up every day and deliver oxygen to his customers knowing that he can “improve the quality of life” for many people.

“The only thing we can do is … try to look at things with optimism and keep moving forward,” he said.

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